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Guitar Player Etiquette 101

By: Joel Wanasek

It is always amazing how many people have inflated egos and have to prove to the world that they think they are better than everyone else. This exists in all aspects of life. For some reason, musicians are famous for this. However, no musician is more notorious for having huge egos than lead guitar players (well, lead singers too). This is especially apparent on the Internet message boards. When people have a computer to hide their faces, the most diabolical nature comes out of them.

I wanted to dedicate a chapter in this book teaching people how to act and behave in life. This will probably anger some people, but there are valuable lessons to be learned here. I really do think this topic is something that needs to be brought up because after a current review of the guitar community, I am sickened by it. Every time I think that it is starting to get better, I am often humbled by how nasty guitarists can be to each other.

This chapter is written as more of an editorial (all opinions and personal experience, so no hard feelings) based on generalizations that I have gathered over many years of hanging out with the “guitar-head” community. I am going to use a lot of first hand experience in this chapter to help teach what I want to get across.

I would also like to say that I am not perfect and I struggle daily to abide by what I am about to say. We are all human and everyone makes mistakes. I will be the first to admit I violated what I am about to preach in the past, especially, when I was younger. But, I try my best to abide by what I say now. So, with that being said, let us learn from each other and improve all of our attitudes!

The Ego

Let us face it: every single person on this planet has some sort of ego. It is a person’s self-conscience. Some people are always going to have bigger egos than others. This is a given. Ego can be a good or a bad thing. But, it is a natural human internal mechanism to look out for one’s own self-interest. Example: If you starve a pet dog, eventually, it will attack its own master to get food. No one likes to feel inferior or not as good as someone else. So, let us review the good uses and bad uses of ego.

The Good Ego

The positive ego is the one that compels a person to succeed and achieve great things! This is the part in you that makes you want to be competitive. This is one of the reasons why you practice guitar every day, to get good and accomplish your personal goals. This is the reason why people practice guitar really hard, buy nice cars, try to push up more weight than a friend in the gym, or try and get the highest score on a test. This is your competitive natural instinct. There is nothing wrong with it. In nature, the strongest survives. Ego can be a very good source of drive and motivation. If you learn how to properly use it, it will make you tremendously successful.

The trick to keeping good ego from going bad is not to let success go to your head and become overly confident. If you are good at something, do not brag or act arrogant. Do not put down other people and make them feel bad either. Use your talents in a positive way to help and inspire other people. You will earn a lot more respect from people if you are humble and honest instead of being arrogant.

The Bad Ego

This is the type of ego where people lash out at others and turn their competitive drive into a bad attitude. Let us face it, no one likes a jerk! Even a small display of bad ego can rub a person the wrong way and leave them with a bad impression of you, no matter how nice you are to them afterwards. People use this kind of ego out of jealousy, anger, and self-centeredness.

Mediocrity always tends to attack excellence. People who are lesser than you will always try to bring you down to their level. Do not fall into this trap. Don’t try to bring down others. Few things are more pathetic than disrespecting someone because they are better than you, more successful than you, or have something that you want. Do not ever let your bad ego control you. The last thing we need in this world is another rude, arrogant, and manipulative person.

Confident vs. Cocky

There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky. You should be confident of yourself, your abilities, and who you are. Having high self-esteem is a great thing! However, sometimes people who display bad ego get jealous easily and portray confidence as cockiness. Confidence can also intimidate people who are unsure of themselves. You shouldn’t prejudge people. At the same token, a person shouldn’t be overly confident to the point where bad ego comes out of them. Make sure you pay close attention to this and you are always self-conscious of what impression you are making on others.

Controlling the ego

In reality, everyone has both kinds of ego. It is natural. Human beings are not perfect. Some people are naturally good at everything they do. Success can really send your ego through the roof. This is especially true if someone was always picked on, left out, or neglected as a child by their peers. You should not make it a personal vendetta against the rest of the world if this is you. It will not solve your problems but will only make them worse. We all have our own obstacles that we must overcome in life. Blaming others for your problems and dwelling on your problems will only attract more problems into your life.

With control, ego is a problem that can be minimized. The first step to control is realizing that your skill as a guitarist will always be topped by someone else somewhere. No matter how good you think you are at guitar, there are thousands of guitarists out there who you have never heard, which would make you want to quit if you heard them.

The key to control is to be always modest and polite! Use your talents to inspire and create, not attack others. It is not hard to do! For example, if someone compliments you, do not take it to your head and be a jerk. Instead, say “thank you” and deep inside respect the fact that that person is giving you their time! There are too many guitarists who do not do this, when they should! If people acted more like Neil Zaza and John Petrucci (both amazing guitarists and class acts), guitar players would be considered the nicest people on earth!

Another important thing to realize is that having a major ego is extremely detrimental to your progress as a guitarist. If you get off stage and your fans come to meet you, you had better be nice to them. If you blow them off or display attitude towards others, they will tell many other people that you are a total jerk. Word of mouth can be very helpful as well as very dangerous. This is why it is so important to respect other people and learn what you can from everyone!

Walk vs. Talk

If there is one thing that drives me absolutely crazy, it is when people criticize everything and everyone, yet can do no better themselves! I have met a lot of guitarists who do nothing else but criticize everything and talk themselves up. Yet, none of them ever released any material or have anything to show for themselves!

Often guitarists say things like “oh you just wait; my CD is going to be so awesome.” Excuse me!? Your CD is “going to be” so awesome? I will believe it when I see it! These people drive me nuts talking because they can never walk to back up there talk.

I find it hilarious when I see a guitarist ripping apart a really good player’s playing like they suck. I think to myself, “Wow, if this guy is such an amazing guitarist, how come he is not respected as a great guitarist and no one has ever heard of him?” It just baffles me. Actions speak much louder than words, and like I stated earlier, mediocrity always attacks excellence.

It comes down to this: do not criticize other’s music unless it is constructive criticism! If you do not like it, then do not listen. It is that simple. There are a million other bands out there for anyone to listen to. If you do not like someone’s music, let them be. If you enjoy a particular genre like jazz, metal, emo, or whatever, then do not criticize guitarists in these genres only because they don’t specialize in the one you like. There is no such thing as better. It is all perspective, and it is completely pointless to even debate or waste time thinking about it. Spend that time doing something productive like practicing.

Hate eMAIL

Ever since e-mail was invented, people realized that they could directly criticize everyone and anything they do not like without having to be held accountable for their own words. I laugh at these people because they are such egotistical and such insecure people that for some reason they take their aggression out on others.

I am guessing that the reason why people take the time out of there day to tell someone that their playing “sucks” is as simple as this: an over inflated ego combined with nothing to show for themselves makes them mad at the world. It is an obvious inferiority complex.

Jealousy is a terrible emotion that destroys everything in its path! Do not let yourself get jealous by another guitarist’s playing! It is easier to respect a player and learn from them than it is to deal with hating them because you wish you were as good.

If you hear someone who is much more talented than yourself, don’t go off saying that they suck to everyone on earth. It is better to approach that person and show respect. How would you feel if a whole bunch of people constantly told you that you suck? You should learn from these people instead. I bet that you would be surprised how nice some people really are when you get to know them! You also never know what you can learn from someone, or they could be a future contact that can help your own musical career. Don’t burn bridges, build them!

Online Message Board Usage

I dislike going to guitar forums and websites like Youtube.com for one reason, a lot of people are just downright ignorant! There are so many public guitar forums out there that are nothing but a bunch of ego maniacs in a competition. At least, that is what it sounds like if you ever read some of these message boards or comments. I have seen every great guitar player I can think of bashed at one point. All I can say is why and what for? What does it accomplish? People get out of hand with this when in reality none of them could do any better than the person they criticize. This goes back to walking versus talking. People need not to take things so close to heart in public forums. Bashing great guitarists accomplishes nothing and just makes you look like a fool.

You should use forums to ask questions, network, and meet people, and not to cause trouble and be a jerk! Is that too much to ask from the guitar head community? Guitar is not a competition. It is a form of musical expression! Guitar is not a race. There is no prize for getting good faster than someone else. These places exist for people to share knowledge and their passion for music, not to degrade others.

Some Final Thoughts

If everyone would lighten up and stop criticizing each other, maybe guitar players could ditch the bad reputation. Behave people! We are all in this together! Why do we squabble over table scraps? If we work together and support each other, we could all accomplish great things. Go now, heed my words and try and be a better person (or continue to go around and be a jerk if you are one, because what goes around comes around!). Do not bring others down, help raise them up. Anyone can be a loser and be negative, but it is something much more worthwhile to set a good example for others.

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  1. Metal says:

    I really appreciate your effort to send a good message.. I agree with you that becoming better is not just about acquiring skills, but its also about remaining humble..

  2. Sixx says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It needs to be said.

  3. Westy says:

    Your right on the money there Joel, the world of musicians , especially guitar players, needs a sensible voice, I think being humble is a great virtue, and many young good guitarists should have this and if they dont work on it, since egotistical narcistic ppl out there have to realise that not one person or style can be the best, guitar is about always learning, you can never know everything and think that being better than everyone out there is something that is acheivable, as in boxing theres always someone who will come along and be better, thats life, cheers Joel, Westy

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